An impressive number of voters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) turned out to elect their local council representatives in the largest ever electoral exercise in the province on May 30, 2015. The election was competitive, election campaign relatively peaceful but culminating in an Election Day that was marred by administrative mismanagement, extremely slow processing of voters, procedural irregularities and confusions, obstacles for women voters and widespread incidents of violence.
The election was distinct in its scale. Polling was held in 3,339 neighborhood and village councils of 978 wards in 24 districts of the province, with the exception of Kohistan where the elections were stayed by the Peshawar High Court on a petition challenging the bifurcation of the district.
As many as 39,079 candidates contested for 23,111 general seats in neighborhood and village councils, 7,681 candidates for 6,678 reserved seats for women, 15,700 candidates for 3,339 seats reserved for peasants and workers, 14,224 candidates for 3,339 seats reserved for youth and 349 candidates for 3,339 seats reserved for minorities. As many as 5,480 candidates contested the polls in 978 wards for 24 district councils and 5,907 candidates in 978 wards for 70 tehsils councils. Elections to neighborhood and village councils were held on a non-party basis, while those for tehsil and district councils were held on a party basis.
By far this election superseded the local government election in the province in 2005 in its scale when direct election was held in 986 union councils for 12,818 seats as compared to a total of 41,762 in 2015 around 4,000 wards – a plausible reason for some of the mismanagement observed on Election Day.
There was an 8% increase in the number of total registered voters in the province compared to the 2013 General Elections. There were 13,387,234 voters (7,636,462 male and 5,750,772 female) registered in the province. As many as 11,211 polling stations (3,428 male, 3,059 female and 4,724 combined) were set up. A total of 2,022 additional polling stations were setup in 24 districts as compared to 9,189 polling stations setup in these districts for the 2013 General Election. However, ECP did not make a detailed district-wise polling scheme available to public on its website.
Despite the scale and evolving legislation and regulatory framework, the ECP managed to conduct the polls on the date assigned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its order on March 6, 2015. Many of the issues observed through the electoral process were due to lack of clarity of the new local government system among stakeholders involved in the conduct of these elections – voters, candidates, election/government officials in addition to the polling staff. Equally critical have been the legislative areas with respect to the rights and entitlement of voters and the responding mandate of the ECP to protect them. This remains a point of contention after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which under Article 140A (2), has assigned the responsibility of conducting the elections to the local government to the ECP, which is subject to provincial legislation.
Held under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act 2014 (amended in 2014) and its subordinate election rules – the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Elections Rules 2013; the elections to local councils heralded the first step to deepening of democracy in the province. The last elections to the local government in the province were held in 2005, under the now defunct Provincial Local Government Act 2000 enacted by the then government led by General Pervez Musharraf.
The federal and provincial governments elected after the general elections in 2008 rendered the Musharraf-designed local government system dysfunctional and procrastinated the enactment of an alternative system on various legal and political pretexts despite desires and directions of the Supreme Court for more than three years. The first democratic transition of power after the 2013 General Election also could not yield the local government elections until a full and final ruling by the apex court that local government elections in cantonment boards, KPK, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Sindh and Punjab be held on April 25, May 30, July 25 and September 30, 2015, respectively. Subsequent to the court direction on March 6, 2015, the ECP had only a month to announce the schedule for an electoral exercise of such scale on April 4, 2015.
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